Governor Expected To Sign Bill Expanding Genetic Disease Screening in Newborns
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is expected to sign into law within the next two weeks a bill (SB 142) that would make infant testing for rare genetic diseases more comprehensive, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Lynch, San Jose Mercury News, 8/4). The bill, sponsored by Sens. Deirdre Alpert (D-San Diego), Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) and Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles), would require that hospitals test for all detectable metabolic and genetic disorders (California Healthline, 6/17). Under the bill, infants would be screened for more than 30 genetic metabolic disorders using a testing method called tandem mass spectrometry. Currently, the state tests only for four disorders (San Jose Mercury News, 8/4).
If passed, the bill would bring California in line with 42 other states and essentially would make permanent an 18-month pilot program involving about 50% of California hospitals (California Healthline, 6/17). The pilot program, which began in 2002, ended in 2003 because of budget concerns, according to the Mercury News. However, increased efficiency has lowered the cost of a screening to about $60 per infant -- roughly the same price for the current test.
For more than five years, the tandem mass spectrometry test has been recognized as a reliable method to screen newborns. Although most of the conditions the test can detect are rare, several are treatable, and early detection often can prevent mental retardation or death, the Mercury News reports. According to Alpert, the test would identify an estimated 140 additional newborns with genetic disorders each year; currently, the test for four conditions identifies disorders in about 400 infants annually.
Schwarzenegger already has approved funding for the new screening. If he signs the bill, state health officials would implement the new program in one year (San Jose Mercury News, 8/4).